Technically, USC athletic director Pat Haden didn’t break any rules as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
And yet he should’ve been the one flagged in Saturday’s game against No. 13 Stanford.
Haden drew even more scrutiny upon himself in the third quarter when he decided to leave his seat in the press box, jog across the field and give the officials an earful. Not only was it out of character for the distinguished alumnus, but it was also a bad call both as an athletic director and as one of 13 committee members tasked with determining the top four teams in the country.
Haden, clearly frustrated by the unsportsmanlike penalty call on coach Steve Sarkisian, let his emotions get the best of him.
He can’t do that when it’s time to vote.
Haden is recused from voting for USC -- all five sitting athletic directors on the committee have been recused from voting for their respective schools -- but he can vote for (or against) Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12. One of the biggest concerns about the playoff has been how to eliminate bias from the selection committee (it’s impossible), and Haden’s actions Saturday were a real-time snapshot of just how deep allegiances can run. Fans and coaches must have confidence in the committee members and trust that they put their jobs ahead of their loyalties.
The image of Haden shaking his head at the officials with his hands on his hips was unprofessional, but it was also a lesson for the committee in the first year of the playoff. Haden was a Rhodes scholar. He knows he made a mistake.
So does the rest of the college football world. That's an even bigger penalty than the one that brought him onto the field.
Even in victory, the Big Ten looked defeated.
The beleaguered conference went 8-5 in its nonconference games, but none of it mattered after Michigan State lost to Oregon, Michigan got clobbered by Notre Dame and Ohio State lost at home to an unranked Virginia Tech team. Not since Sept. 17, 1988, did those three programs all lose on the same day.
It was ugly. All of it.
Nebraska made McNeese State look like Florida State. The Buckeyes lost at home for the first time under Urban Meyer. Michigan’s series with Notre Dame ended in the first half, when the Fighting Irish jumped out to a 21-0 lead. Purdue lost to Central Michigan, and Northwestern lost to Northern Illinois. South Florida had a lead over Maryland, and Ball State was beating Iowa before both Big Ten teams pulled ahead. Overall, the Big Ten went 0-4 against teams ranked in the top 50 of ESPN's Football Power Index, with its best win coming from Minnesota over No. 73 Middle Tennessee.
This was the week for the conference to assert itself in the playoff conversation and silence critics with a marquee win over a top-five team. Instead, the Big Ten looked like the first Power 5 conference that should be left out of the four-team playoff. Even if Michigan State runs the table, its strength of schedule will be called into question if the rest of the league continues to underwhelm -- if it hasn’t already.
QB questions remain for Alabama
Alabama’s quarterbacks remain a storyline, as Blake Sims and Jake Coker each threw for at least 200 yards in a 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic. Sims completed 11 of 13 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, but he had a fumble near the goal line. Coker completed 15 of 24 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown in his most extensive playing time so far.
They’ve been good enough to beat West Virginia and Florida Atlantic, but which one can beat Florida? Auburn? LSU? And that Texas A&M team that’s not a one-trick pony?
The good news for Alabama is that whoever winds up as the full-time starter has Amari Cooper to throw to, and he can make just about anyone look good.
One of them will have to be great, though, to get to the playoff.
Morning musings: Will UCLA ever put together a complete game? ... Virginia Tech is now the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division. ... The SEC West made the most improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. ... If serious, FSU’s injuries on the defensive line will be a problem. ... Good grief, Michigan. ... Did Mack Brown cringe or smile? ... Red zone, Stanford, red zone! ... It’s easy to rip the Big Ten, but the ACC hardly looked like a world-beater. (Lookin’ at you, UNC and NC State.)